The reason I bought into Beneath the Inverted Church was entirely based on preview art that showed up in my G+ feeds. The art in question is some good linework by Scott Buoncristiano, like this piece of his:
I didn’t bother to read through the Kickstarter, and by the time Erik Tenkar reviewed it, I had forgotten that I had backed it. I find there to be thematic alignments between BtIC and Zak Sabbath’s wonderful Alice inspired A Red and Pleasant Land.
Both involve characters entering a hostile and evil demiplane subject to the caprices and obsessions of the truly villainous inhabitants, and having to pass into an even more warped reality through mirrors. If the main enemy in BtiC was any other type of demon than an “Inverted Cupid” the types of horrors encountered would have been more palatable. As they follow that specific type of evil, it enters into a questionable territory. Not, mind you, and unfamiliar one. Plenty of the flavor text in ARaPL is just as graphic, with one major point of difference. The evils of ARaPL are just that, Evil, and at no point are the characters forced to really participate in the Red Queen’s games in order to complete the adventure. They can capitulate, it is true, but it is not required that they do so. They can run, they can kill, and most certainly, they can die, but they needn’t do anything graphically uncomfortable.
That aside, there are a lot of interesting mechanics to the circumstance of travelling through, or opening mirrored portals. While the Stress mechanic is reminiscent of San points loss in CoC or Fright Checks in GURPS, they unfortunately generate the problem of dictating how a character feels. You can tell a PC that the image they see through the glass is revolting, but strips a little agency when you tell them that they are disgusted, but cannot turn away, at least without incorporating some type of Saving throw or resistance check.
The looking glass world in BtIC is called the Invert, and like that of ARaPL, is a very hostile place, and also quite alive. Not only are you faced, when gazing at a reflective surface, with loathy images that induce stress, but it can see you. In the case of several locations called mirror doors, there are two types of interactions; the first is to be magically (and forcibly) drawn through the glass, which only allows passage of flesh and a substance called Stained Salt (a super hardened mineral that looks like stained glass), a process that will maim or kill dressed and armored characters, or to “seduce” the sentient mirror door by showing it something both novel and indecent. This goes beyond a “tell me your darkest secret” kind of thing, and quickly drifts into an uncomfortable place that might demand an alignment check from characters dealing with the toll keeping aspect of the mirror world (if not their players walking out on the game). Now, there is an “out” built into the setting; the first encounter the characters have is with an amoral bandit who likes to defile the corpses of his victims in a way that would make Dahmer blush, but is accompanied on his crimes by a merry band of artists who record the atrocities in their sketchbooks. There are some examples of the content of these images, and a money making opportunity for characters to sell them off so that they can be destroyed by grief stricken relatives of the deceased depicted therin, but primarily in that you can bypass the damned doors by showing them pages from the book, which is still pretty nasty.
The monstrous opponents in BtIC do look amazing, again thanks to Scott Buoncristiano’s artwork, and could easily have crawled out of the Teratic Tome, or the Random Guest Table from a Red and Pleasant Land. (One of my favorite parts of that book!)
By converting the primary opponent from a lust demon into one of violence, one could remove all of the sexual content from this and play through, but the characters without the picture book of mutilated corpses might have to shed their own or each other’s blood to open the doors… There are enough mechanical ideas in this to be interesting, but culling them from the rest of the material is not for the faint of heart.
Edit: Instead of showing the Magical Mirror Doors some novel perversion, you could instead require characters to recite new or original poetry to the door, as the Blatant Beast did to Harold Shea in the Incompleat Enchanter.
On other notes: Two products with my art just hit drivethrough. As usual I don’t get anything from sales unless it is one of my own products, but check these out:
The Blood & Treasure Keeper’s Screen, by John Stater and The first issue of Charlie Mason’s Whitebox zine, The Wizard’s Scroll
Snatch em now, the art is good!